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What are Arthrodesis?

Arthrodesis is a surgical procedure which involves the bony fusion of a joint to repair a significant injury. This involves fitting a special plate, known as an arthrodesis plate, to repair the injury and restore normal function to the joint. Arthrodesis is required to treat cases of joint hyperextension since this condition causes extensive damage to the ligaments and does not heal on its own. This procedure is considered effective in most cats that experience hyperextension. However, the recovery period is extensive and cats must be monitored carefully during this time to prevent recurrence or postoperative complications.

Arthrodesis Procedure in Cats

It should be noted that the exact steps of the procedure will vary based on which joint is being fused as well as the type of arthrodesis being performed. These include partial carpal and pancarpal arthrodesis. The key difference between these is the amount of joints involved in the injury and the degree of carpal motion following surgery. 

The general steps for an arthrodesis procedure are outlined below.

  1. Before surgery begins, the surgeon will conduct tests to ensure the patient is suitable for surgery, and that no infection is present in the joint to be fused.
  2. The cat will first be anesthetized and prepped for surgery.
  3. Once preparation is complete, the surgeon will make the initial incision and remove the cartilage surrounding the joint.
  4. The surgeon will insert bone graft samples, taken from the cat, into the joint to promote healing.
  5. The surgeon will then reposition the joints to a more normal angle and stabilize it using an arthrodesis plate. The surgeon may also choose to use screws, pins, other types of plates, or a combination of these to achieve this.
  6. The surgeon will ensure the joint is stable before suturing the surgery site.

Efficacy of Arthrodesis in Cats

The efficacy of the surgery will largely depend on whether or not the cat rests adequately during the recovery period. For most cases, arthrodesis is extremely effective given that owners follow all recovery instructions. Cats that undergo arthrodesis usually heal and regain normal limb function within two to four months.

Arthrodesis Recovery in Cats

It is imperative that owners follow postoperative care instructions very carefully to avoid further complications or injury. Analgesics and other medications may be prescribed to manage postoperative pain. Cats should be confined for six to eight weeks following the surgery. They should not play, jump, run, or engage in any kind of play or activity. Cats recovering from arthrodesis should not be allowed outside. If the owner must leave the cat for any period of time, the cat should be kept in a kennel or crate. Owners must supervise their cats at all times. Ideally, cats should not be allowed on hardwood, tile, linoleum, or similar surfaces. Cats that are difficult to control may be boarded with a veterinarian for up to three weeks following the surgery.

Sutures will be removed two weeks following the surgery. Cats will need to wear an Elizabethan collar or bandages during this period to avoid irritating the surgery site. If the cat is required to wear a bandage, this must be changed frequently and kept clean and dry. A follow-up examination will take place six to eight weeks following surgery. During this appointment, the vet will take x-rays to monitor healing and determine when the cat can resume normal activity. Subsequent follow-up appointments will take place every six to eight weeks until fusion is complete.

Cost of Arthrodesis in Cats

The cost of arthrodesis will vary based on standards of living as well as additional costs incurred, including medications, supportive care, and boarding costs. The cost of arthrodesis ranges from $500 to $3,000. On average, the national cost of arthrodesis is $1,000.

Cat Arthrodesis Considerations

Complications are possible with any surgical procedure. The most common complication associated with arthrodesis is delayed healing. This can be attributed to the cat resuming activity too early, or the cat may simply heal slower than normal. Infection may also occur, but this is rare with orthopedic surgery. One of the main causes of complications associated with arthrodesis is the failure to control the cat postoperatively. If cats engage in play or activity, they can jeopardize and/or delay the healing process, which may require additional surgery. It is vital that owners ensure their cats are confined for the recovery period and do not engage in activity.

Arthrodesis Prevention in Cats

Owners should ensure their cats do not engage in activities that can result in joint trauma. It is often difficult to prevent degenerative joint disease, as this condition develops gradually as a cat ages.